Group B of the 2019 AFCON finals comprises of two of three tournament debutants – Madagascar and Burundi, alongside regular faces – Nigeria and Guinea.
Madagascar were the first team to book their ticket after taking 10 points from their opening four matches in the qualifiers, while Burundi saw off Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s Gabon to advance. Meanwhile, Nigeria and Guinea topped Group E and H respectively in the qualifiers.
Coach: Gernot Rohr
Africa/World Rankings: 4/46
Previous Appearances: 17
Best AFCON Finish: Champions (1980, 1994, 2013)
Following the outcome of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations draw, Nigerians were delighted with the opponents the Super Eagles will lock horns against, tipping Group B to be a walk in the park for Gernot Rohr’s men.
With two debutants in their group, the Super Eagles were handed a relatively easy draw. And it is quite hard not to see the three-time Champions of Africa getting their way through the group stage phase.
Nigeria missed the last two editions of the continent’s flagship tournament after emerging winners in 2013. They, however, qualified for 2019’s edition in grand style, grabbing first spot in AFCON qualifying Group E.
The Super Eagles, with base in Alexandria during the group phase, will start their AFCON 2019 campaign with a tie against Burundi on June 22 before taking on Guinea [June 26] and Madagascar [June 30].
Player to Watch: Odion Ighalo
The qualifiers ended with Odion Ighalo as the highest goalscorer – with 7 goals to his name.
Following the 2018 World Cup, where he missed a number of chances that would’ve given the Super Eagles an edge over Argentina, Ighalo was hardly any Nigerian’s favourite.
However, the qualifiers proved to e an opportunity for the striker to set things right, and he didn’t waste time doing just that.
He was involved in so many goals for Nigeria that he quickly regained his reputation amongst fans. By the time the Super Eagles had secured their spot at Egypt 2019, Ighalo had six goals to his name. He got the seventh goal in Nigeria’s 3-1 win over Seychelles in their last qualifying match.
With this form, it is reasonable to expect him ring the same energy when the 2019 AFCON kicks off in June. He is a man to watch out for.
Coach: Paul Put
Africa/World Rankings: 12/68
Previous Appearances: 11
Best AFCON Finish: Runners-up (1976)
Guinea saw off challenges from Rwanda, Central African Republic and Ivory Coast and finished atop in group H to seal AFCON 2019 qualification.
The Syli nationale (National Elephants) have returned to Africa football biggest competition after missing out on the last edition. Paul Put’s Guinea last appearance at the continental stage was in 2015 where they didn’t progress beyond the quarter-finals.
The West African nation’s best finish was during the 1976 African Cup of Nations when they finished second to Morocco, only missing out on the championship by a point. Led by Liverpool star – Naby Keita, they will aim for a better finish in Egypt this time around.
Player to Watch: Naby Keita
Guinea captain Naby Keita has grown into one of the trusted men for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side. Despite being his debut year in the Premier League, he has shown the reasons why Liverpool bestowed him with the iconic no. 8 jersey. He is one of the three Africans in the Reds’ squad, making the continent proud.
However, presently injured, Keita is in a race to be fit in time for Egypt’s showpiece. The midfielder limped off in Liverpool’s UCL first-leg tie against Barcelona.
Speaking after the match, Liverpool coach revealed Keita will most likely be out of action for two months but his national team – Guinea are not giving up on him yet.
In a post on the country’s official Facebook page, Guinea coach Paul Put said he is seeking a ‘second medical opinion’ to decide whether the Liverpool midfielder will be able to play at the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.
“We want a second medical opinion and we are seeking the expertise of the doctor in Switzerland who Keita always contacts whenever he’s injured.”
If he is fit in time for Egypt, then Guinea’s hopes of making it out of the group stage phase will be boosted.
Coach: Nicolas Dupuis
Africa/World Rankings: 24/107
Previous Appearances: None
On 16 October 2018, Madagascar qualified to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in their history, after they won 1–0 against Equatorial Guinea.
With zero participation until now, Madagascar have come this far with hardwork, seeing off hurdles from Equatorial Guinea, Sudan and Senegal.
Whether they will take Egypt by storm is yet to be seen, but they’re not really fancied to go far being their very first time at Africa’s flagship competition.
Player to Watch: Fanev Andriatsima
Madagascar striker – Fanev Andriatsima plays for French side Clermont Foot – and he was Madagascar’s joint- highest goalscorer in the qualifiers, with three goals to his name.
The 34-year-old was also his side’s top scorer in 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, even though Madagascar didn’t make it to the finals in South Africa. He has proven over and over to be a reliable weapon for the Malagasy.
His brilliance could once again propel Madagascar to record a remarkable AFCON debut.
Coach: Olivier Niyungeko
Africa/World Rankings: 38/139
Previous Appearances: None
Just like Madagascar, another debutants in the 2019 AFCON are Burundi. The East African nation previously did come very close to qualifying for the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations, losing only on penalties to Guinea in a playoff.
However, in 2019, after going unbeaten in the qualifiers, it qualified for the very first time and will take part in the Africa Cup of Nations finals in 2019.
Player to Watch: Saido Berahino
Having fled his native Burundi as a child, Saido Berahino represented England at all youth levels from under-16 to under-21, and was part of their under-17 team which won the 2010 European Championship
However, Saido Berahino was called up for the first time to Burundi senior team in November 2014 but did not play. He then finally switched his international allegiance to Burundi in August 2018 and scored on his international debut in September.
Berahino plies his trade for Championship side Stoke City, having started his professional football with West Brom. The 25-year-old forward has caught the eye with his mesmerising displays.
He was once involved a lengthy transfer saga to Tottenham Hotspur, straining his relationships with manager Tony Pulis and chairman Jeremy Peace. Nonetheless, in January 2017, he joined Stoke City for a fee of £12 million.
Albeit, Berahino is not Burundi’s goalscoring machine (as Fiston Abdul Razak – with 6 goals during the qualifiers holds that honour), yet he his the best asset Burundi’s got in Egypt. You can always count on him to make the difference
Madagascar held Senegal at home during the qualifiers, while Burundi were undefeated in double-headers against both Mali and Gabon. Both ‘minnows’ have proved that they can get the job done against much more established sides, and both are capable of causing upset.
However, the other two established sides – Nigeria and Guinea, beaming of topnotch players, have all it takes to progress to the knockout phase even if they have to bank on their experience doing so.
Up next: Group C